Tunes on a Penny Whistle

A Derbyshire Childhood


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The Story

The early 1900s were a period of great hardship for many working-class families, particularly in rural areas. However, they were also times of pride and self-sufficiency, with fun and laughter derived from simple pleasures as well as mutual support and courage when poverty could have become unbearable.

This book is a personal history of a childhood in the village of Eyam – known as the Plague Village – in the Peak District of Derbyshire. Doris recalls how her mother confronted tough living conditions without labour-saving devices and often with little or no money.

She remembers, too, her father, who fought for the right for union representation, worked for self-help groups, and organised political meetings and village entertainments. He was a talented self-taught musician, producing a wide range of music on his Canadian organ and penny whistle. His fighting spirit made him a remarkable and influential character within the village community.

Both humourous and shocking, this description of domestic and community life at the beginning of the twentieth century is illustrated with many contemporary photographs, documents, and line drawings by George Coates, the author’s husband.

Tunes on a Penny Whistle is one of a series of social and local histories written by the author and published by The Harpsden Press.

Doris E. Coates was born in Eyam in 1908. Remarkably, from a very basic education at the village school, she achieved entry to Goldsmith’s College, University of London, and achieved a First Class qualification. After a lifetime of teaching in Derbyshire and Norfolk, Doris turned to writing. Her first book, Tuppenny Rice and Treacle, also recalled her Derbyshire roots. Later books explored the history of Stoke Ferry and its neighbouring villages in west Norfolk. Doris died in 1998.